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China’s Alibaba to apply for dual primary listing in Hong Kong

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SHANGHAI — Alibaba will apply for a primary listing in Hong Kong and keep its U.S. listing, the first big company to take advantage of a rule change allowing high-tech Chinese firms with dual class shares to seek dual primary listings in Hong Kong.

The e-commerce giant’s move, announced on Tuesday, comes as both Washington and Beijing sharpen scrutiny over Chinese companies’ listings, and after a devastating regulatory crackdown in China left Alibaba with a $2.8 billion fine and scuppered an initial public offering (IPO) of its affiliate Ant.

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Shares in Alibaba rose 4% in Hong Kong upon market opening in response to the news.

Already present on the Hong Kong bourse with a secondary listing since 2019, Alibaba said it expects the primary listing to be completed by the end of 2022. Chief Executive Daniel Zhang said the dual listing would foster a “wider and more diversified investor base.”

Seeking a dual primary listing will also allow Alibaba to apply for the Stock Connect scheme that will permit mainland China investors to buy the company’s shares more easily.

The move comes after the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX) in January changed its rules to allow “innovative” Chinese companies with weighted voting rights or variable interest entities (VIE) to carry out dual primary listings in the city.

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Under a VIE structure, a Chinese company sets up an offshore entity for overseas listing purposes that allows foreign investors to buy into the stock.

“Hong Kong is also the launch pad for Alibaba’s globalization strategy, and we are fully confident in China’s economy and future,” Alibaba’s CEO Zhang said in a statement.

Alibaba listed on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014, marking what was at the time the largest IPO in history.

Since 2020, the company’s share price has tanked in both markets, as a sweeping regulatory crackdown by Beijing has battered Chinese tech companies.

At the same time, U.S. regulators have stepped up scrutiny of accounts of Chinese firms listed in New York, demanding greater transparency.

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While broad in scope, a core focus of China’s crackdown has been regulators seeking to expand oversight of public offerings.

Last year, Chinese authorities launched a probe into ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing just after it listed in New York, citing data privacy concerns.

The company later de-listed and began preparations to list in Hong Kong, leading analysts to interpret the probe as driven by a desire on Beijing’s part for data-rich companies to list domestically.

In order to switch to a dual primary listing, the HKEX said companies had to have a good track record of at least two full financial years listed overseas, and a capitalisation of at least HK$40 billion ($5.10 billion) or a market value of at least HK$10 billion plus revenue of at least HK$1 billion for the most recent financial year. ($1 = 7.8493 Hong Kong dollars) (Reporting by Josh Horwitz and Scott Murdoch; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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